Exercise groups, election boards, Alcoholics Anonymous, and other worthwhile organizations may ask to use your building for meetings or other events. Before saying “Sure!” consider how you will protect your ministry from liability for related damages or injuries.
During a step aerobics class that meets at your church, a woman trips over some exercise equipment and falls, breaking her wrist. You're sorry that the woman was injured, but you believe that the woman or the class sponsor should pay her medical bills. Unfortunately, unless steps are taken ahead of time, there is little to prevent her from suing your ministry for payment.
Such lawsuits are costly, time-consuming, and emotionally draining. They can damage your ministry's reputation, even if you had nothing to do with the event in question. They also may be preventable.
The key issue with loaning or renting church buildings to outside organizations is that your church can be held liable for accidents or injuries, even if you weren't the event sponsor. It's easy to assume that the group and its members would be accountable for their own actions, but often they aren't. As the property owner, you could ultimately be held responsible.
So how can you protect your ministry while lending your building to the community?
To limit the liability your church assumes, require all groups borrowing or renting your facilities to sign a Facilities Use Agreement. Ideally, an agreement would contain language requiring the group to:
Make sure that any agreement you use is reviewed and approved by a local attorney, since laws vary by state. If you don't obtain a building use agreement and an injured person sues the church, your legal position will not be as strong.
A building use agreement is only part of the equation. Another key factor in limiting liability is to keep your facilities in safe operating condition. If someone falls down the stairs because your handrail is loose, the blame is likely to fall squarely on the church.
You'll also want to make sure that guests can evacuate quickly in the event of an emergency. This means:
To reduce the likelihood of trips and falls, you'll want to:
Contact your agent if you have any questions about the safety of your building. He or she may have some useful suggestions.
Guests will be unfamiliar with your building, so they may not know how to find the nearest exit or a telephone if an emergency arises. They might not even know the ministry's name or address—crucial details for first responders in the event of an emergency. Before allowing a new group to use your building, provide a packet of information that a person would reasonably need to know about your facility. It should include at least the following:
You may want to arrange to have a church representative present when outside groups use the building. This person can help ensure that ministry property is protected and could be a valuable resource during an emergency.
Ministry items could be damaged or stolen while the building is open for other groups' events. If you haven't taken steps to secure valuables, your ministry may bear the cost of replacing missing items.
Take the following steps to ensure that your church is properly secured while lending the building to outside groups:
“In the course of dealing with a loss, many churches have admitted they were probably too trusting,” said Peter Kujak, a senior claims adjuster for Brotherhood Mutual. “They didn't assume there was a risk from those who came through the doors. They realized too late the need to control access to their building and to lock up valuable items.”
Once you've developed a building use agreement, corrected known defects, and decided how to secure church property while others are using the building, it's time to extend a warm welcome to those groups you desire to host.
For those groups already using the building, explain that you are requiring building use agreements to better define which organization would be responsible in case of injury or accident. Then, ask them to complete your new agreement. Most groups should have no problem accepting responsibility for any loss arising from their activities. In fact, they may have assumed that responsibility was theirs from the beginning.
Thank you for your interest in Brotherhood Mutual. We appreciate the opportunity to provide your church or other ministry with an insurance quote and will reply to your request as soon as possible.
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